Hurricane Maria-One Year Later

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When I think about the connection that The University at Buffalo School of Law has with Puerto Rico, I feel grateful and proud that I chose to attend UB. UB Law has an entire clinic committed exclusively to serving victims of Hurricane Maria; a class on insurance law, with a focus on Hurricane Maria, taught by the Dean of the Law School who is also an insurance expert, Dean Aviva Abramovsky; several students of Puerto Rican descent, including a student born and raised in Puerto Rico; and a professor from Puerto Rico, Professor Luis Chiesa. Considering the school’s involvement in the post Hurricane Maria relief effort, it felt natural when Professor Chiesa approached the Latin American Students Association (LALSA) to plan a panel discussing how Puerto Rico was doing a year later after Hurricane Maria. As both the Co-President of LALSA and a student attorney for UB’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, it also felt natural to step into the role of planning this event. 

In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria cast a bright spotlight on Puerto Rico. For months, news outlets splashed images of destruction and suffering on the island. It was impossible to log onto a news website or open a newspaper without seeing something about Puerto Rico. However, only a few months later, it seemed that the shock and sensation of Hurricane Maria had worn off and Puerto Rico faded from the media spotlight. The panel was our effort of putting the spotlight back on Puerto Rico and discussing where Puerto Rico stood a little over a year after Hurricane Maria.

The panel took place on November 28, 2018. The panelists were Professor Kim Diana Connolly, Director of UB Law’s Puerto Rico Clinic; Jonathan Reyes Colón, Student Attorney of UB Law’s Puerto Rico Clinic; Octavio Villegas, Esq., Volunteer Attorney for UB Law’s PR Clinic; Irma “Judy” López, Founder of Hispanics Organized for Progress in Education (HOPE) and Board Member of the Hispanic Women’s League; and Alexsandra López, Coordinator-Regional Bilingual Special Education Specialist at Erie 1 BOCES; Board Member of the Hispanic Women’s League.

The panel commenced with a showing of a 29 minute CBS News documentary before the panel, called “Puerto Rico: The Exodus After Hurricane Maria.” I, the moderator, then asked panelists questions. The panel then ended with audience members asking the panelists questions. Each panelist brought their own, unique perspective. Professor Connolly talked about her experience overseeing the legal recovery effort in Puerto Rico. Jonathan spoke from the perspective of providing recovery relief in Puerto Rico as a native of Puerto Rico. Octavio spoke about his relief efforts when Maria first struck the island and how his subsequent role as a volunteer attorney for the PR clinic has broadened his ability to serve victims on the island. Ms. Alexsandra López talked about being a liaison between the Buffalo community and victims of Hurricane Maria who have settled into Buffalo. Irma “Judy” Lopez discussed her efforts in providing resources and services to victims of Maria who settled into Western New York. 

The panel was a step toward providing information on the work that still needs to be done in Puerto Rico and what can be done to serve the Puerto Ricans who have come to the mainland after Hurricane Maria. It was an effort to remind everyone that even though the media may have forgotten about the many Puerto Ricans still recovering from Maria, we should not.  

If you are interested in supporting #UBLawResponds-PR for the upcoming trip, please visit our fundraising site. We hope you will also come back and visit this blog over the coming month to hear about our work in January 2019 and beyond!